Food Waste Stories

Food Dates

Monday 22nd February 2016

We all find ourselves staring at food packets from time to time wondering if it has past its best or that it is safe to eat and often the multiple different dates on the packet confuse us even further rather than help.

This confusion is costing us. In the UK we throw away around 3 million tonnes of food and drink to the value of 600 million pounds every year1, before we have even got round to tasting it! This is often down to our confusion over food durability and date labels. Statistics show that simply by making the most of the food that we have already bought, the average family could save almost £60 a month2.

so what do these dates mean?

‘use by’

These are the most important dates on your food and they refer to the safety of the product. Food can be eaten up to and including this date but not after, even if it looks and smells fine. Products that have Use by dates include things like meat and poultry which can cause food poisoning if consumed after expiration. Use by dates are required by law and it is illegal for a shop to sell products if their use by dates have expired.

‘best before’

These dates refer to quality not safety. If the product is stored according to its packaged guidelines it should still be at its best up to and including its best before date. These products should be safe to eat after their best before date but may not be at their best in terms of taste, texture, aroma and appearance. Products such as bread or vegetables will often have best before dates. Again, best before dates are a legal requirement for most food but shops can still sell food after this date provided it meets legal food safety requirements.

‘display until’ and ‘sell by’

These dates are the source of much confusion. They are for the shop staff not for the consumers or shoppers. Unlike the other dates above, display until or sell by dates are not a legal requirement and many organisations such as WRAP have called for these to be removed in the hope that a simplified system might reduce the confusion and in turn food waste.

In order to extend the life of your food it is important to be aware of these dates and use them to your advantage.

-       Always rotate your food, consuming the oldest items first.

-       Freeze items before use by dates and simply defrost and consume them as required.

-       Store your items correctly making sure that they are fresh for the maximum amount of time possible.

By understanding what these dates mean and how we should use them, we can get them to work for us, we can eat safely and also save a few pounds in the process.


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